SALEM, Ohio – Dairyman Arlie Stutzman claims he sells raw milk because of his religious beliefs but that isn’t a good enough reason for him to continue, a judge recently ruled.
In addition, Stutzman’s argument that he accepts donations but does not sell the milk is “subterfuge,” said Holmes County Common Pleas Judge Thomas White.
It’s clearly an attempt to skirt the law, White wrote in his court decision July 7. Stutzman is not a charity funded by donations; he’s a dairy farmer who makes his living selling milk, White added.
Rights in question. Selling raw milk is illegal in Ohio and Stutzman argued this violates his right to freedom of religion.
Stutzman is Amish and believes it’s up to him to share with those in need, said his attorney, Gary Cox.
If people ask him for raw milk and say they cannot get it anywhere else and it’s for their health, his religion teaches him to give them the milk, Cox said.
The judge ruled otherwise and permanently barred the Fredericksburg farmer from selling or accepting donations for raw milk. He can, however, give it away for free.
‘No remorse.’ The decision follows months of conflict between Stutzman and the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Stutzman sold a gallon of raw milk for $2 to an undercover department agent last fall. The department revoked his dairy license in January.
In April he reapplied, state sanitarians inspected his farm, and he received a new license.
Milk bought in a grocery store is pasteurized to kill bacteria. Because raw milk hasn’t gone through this step, Ohio law bans anyone other than the cows’ owners from drinking it.
According to court documents, Stutzman admitted in court he’s sold raw milk repeatedly even though a preliminary injunction forbid him from doing so.
“[Stutzman] expressed no remorse for his violations and indicated no desire to bring his conduct into compliance with the court’s orders or Ohio law,” White wrote.
Further action? Stutzman’s attorney said he has not talked with his client about an appeal, but he is asking for a clarification about inconsistencies in the judge’s decision.
Until the motion is submitted, Cox would not comment on those clarifications.
“Obviously [Stutzman] is going to comply. There’s no doubt about it,” Cox said. “But he needs clarification … so he’s not back in court facing contempt charges.”
Cox also filed a motion July 10 asking for a new trial because of newly discovered evidence. He said he had proof the department of agriculture is enforcing state dairy laws selectively. The judge denied the motion two days later.
Cox said he has two clients who use raw milk in their pet food. The department proposed to revoke their licenses but days before the hearing, decided not to continue, Cox said.
This is evidence it is being selective in who it targets, he said.
Not so, said department spokesperson Melanie Wilt. It follows up all complaints or tips, as it did with Stutzman, she said.
In addition, pet food does not fall under Ohio dairy law. Instead, it’s part of the plant health law, which includes feed and fertilizer, Wilt said.
Herd shares. Stutzman also has herd-share agreements.
With these arrangements, the public can buy shares of a farmer’s cattle. Because these people are part-owners, they can drink the raw milk.
The department of agriculture has said in the past this isn’t illegal but is a way for raw milk advocates to get around the law.
The court’s recent permanent injunction against Stutzman does not affect his herd-share agreements.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)